(Published in The Speaking Tree column of The Times of India Edit Page May 22, 2017)
Yamuna Pushta is an embankment of jhuggis (hutments) behind Raj Ghat, Delhi, on the banks of the Yamuna River. I had gone there in 1995, as a reporter for a Delhi-based evening newspaper, to cover a story about drug trafficking that was allegedly taking place there.
When I got to the Pushta, I visited the jhuggi of a man who had been a drug addict since childhood. I sat in his 8 feet by 8 feet jhuggi. His wife and two kids had been sent by him to beg in Connaught Place. The proceedings from their daily begging activities would help them survive and also cater to his ongoing drug addiction.
He offered me a glass of tea and we started talking. For a man who lived in Yamuna Pushta, he was surprisingly serene. He spoke to me in a calm, composed and collected manner. He confessed he regretted his habit, but doubted if he would be able to survive without his daily dose of drugs. “When I was a kid, a bad man injected me with drugs and I became a drug addict – it was not out of choice,” he told me.
He also told me that what he really wanted in life was for his children to study, be healthy and hopefully some day by a gift of destiny, become educated and get good jobs and eventually marry and have their own families. At that moment I realised that we both wanted the same things in life. I also realised the connection that exists between all human beings on Earth and all beings in the universe.
It struck me that though a man could be a drug addict living in Yamuna Pushta who had to resort to sending his family out to beg, he is not just a ‘statistic’ or just a ‘story’, but a human being who wants what all people want – the well being of family.
That day, I left Yamuna Pushta a little wiser and a lot more aware of the connection between beings – the love of God that binds us all though we may look different, have different ways of living even if of a completely different level in the social spectrum.
The story doesn’t end there. By a strange twist of irony, that same evening, I went to cover an event that then Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, was attending. I waited in the media area, heard the sirens of the PM’s motorcade, listened to his speech and went home.
That day I had seen two men who were perhaps from completely opposite end of the social spectrum. On the one hand, a man living in a 64 sq. feet jhuggi, a drug addict — a man who sends his family to beg in order to survive, but yet a man who wanted something nice for his family; on the other hand, the Prime Minister of India, who had everything possible within reach. I don’t think there can be any more extreme levels on the social spectrum than these two men.
The man from Yamuna Pushta and I connected that morning at a mental and spiritual level. Oddly, I didn’t feel that when I heard the PM address the gathering in a meticulously prepared speech.
I returned home wiser and felt touched at the level of the soul. The man at the ‘lowest’ level of the social spectrum affected my heart more than the man at the ‘highest’ level.